BY FREDA MIKLIN
Redistricting is the term that describes the process that occurs everywhere in the United States every ten years after the U.S. Census, which is required by the Constitution of the United States, is completed. It reapportions the Congressional districts in each state and all the state legislative districts, based on the number of people and where they live. The goal is to have approximately the same number of people in each district so that elected officials represent an equal number of citizens.
Traditionally, redistricting was a partisan process in which the political party in power at the state level drew district lines that they believed increased the chances that their party’s candidates would be elected. In 2018, the voters of Colorado, along with elected officials and the leaders of the state’s major political parties, agreed that it would be best to permanently remove partisan influence from the redistricting process. 2021 marks the first time that the independent redistricting commissions have the opportunity to do their work.
There are two separate commissions, one for Congressional districts (Colorado had seven districts historically and in 2021 for the first time, eight) and one for the 35 state senate and 65 state house districts. Each commission is comprised of four Republicans, four Democrats, and four unaffiliated voters, selected by a fair process from those who applied and were qualified, and come from different locations around the state.
Besides the relatively simple requirements that districts have equal population and be contiguous and compact, they must also comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and should be politically competitive (not contain an overwhelming majority of registered voters from one party). The tricky requirement is that they “preserve communities of interest.” Public policy concerns that define communities of interest include urban, rural, agricultural, education, environment, public health, water, and transportation. Communities of interest can also be defined as racial, ethnic, and language minority groups.
The members of the independent redistricting commissions are unpaid volunteers, but they have nonpartisan professional staffs who help them do their work. The first step in the process of redistricting this year was that the professional staff prepared preliminary maps for both the congressional and legislative redistricting commissions as a starting point based on the information available in June, when they were completed. That available information did not include the final numbers from the 2020 U.S. Census.
Between July 9 and August 28, the commissions will hold 36 separate public hearings around the state, during which they will accept input from any person who signs up to speak about where they believe Congressional and legislative district lines should be drawn and why. Each speaker is limited to three minutes and generally needs to sign up in advance but there is no limit to the number of people who can speak. Comments can also be submitted electronically.
Meetings are being recorded and commissioners and staff are taking careful notes to review with fellow commissioners when they make decisions about where the preliminary lines proposed by staff should be changed. That process will occur at the same time as adjustments to proposed district lines are made based on the official U.S. 2020 Census data, once it is received.
Following those steps, redistricting commissioners will go back on the road to get input once again from Coloradans to the revised maps. Finally, commissioners will certify the maps, then submit them to the Colorado Supreme Court for final approval.
At the local level, a similar process will occur to revise voting districts in cities and counties to make sure that each voting district has a similar number of residents based on the size of the current population and where people live.